We’ve been in Glasgow nearly four months now, and in that time I have been to a variety of churches, all of them within the Church of Scotland (known as “The Kirk” in Scotland). I’ve been struck by what a very “broad Kirk” it really is.
Here are some examples, just to give you an idea:
- A traditional church service with a woman minister and a very relaxed atmosphere. There were people there of all ages. I liked the minister’s blue shoes, her preaching, and the short communion service that was held directly afterwards. I was made very welcome.
- An evangelical healing church, held in a community centre. The service was two hours long, with a lots of contemporary Christian songs, people waving flags, dancing in the aisles, going in and out for cups of coffee. Children and teenagers mostly left to go to their own Sunday School, but several stayed with their parents and played games on their phones, or coloured or played with toys. There were people of all ages at the service. One woman with a kind of palsy embroidered beautifully throughout, and explained to me that it helped her to stay still and listen. I liked the preaching, was interested to hear testimonies of healing, and was struck by the use of terms such as “supernatural” and “prophetic vision” in the church bulletin. I was also made very welcome there.
- A sparsely-attended traditional service where I was by far the youngest. The person at the door nearly withheld the order of service from me, as I was just a visitor! I actually – and this, believe it or not, is a rarity – found myself battling to stay awake during the sermon. (I think this might partly be due to how cold it was in the church.) People barely acknowledged me.
- A Gaelic service at St. Columba’s church, known as “the Highland cathedral”. There was no precentor leading metrical psalm-singing, as in more traditional Gaelic services that I’ve attended. Instead we sang Gaelic versions of English hymns that I’m familiar with. On another Sunday, I went to the English service, which is held a bit later on Sunday morning. The fellowship at this church has been very warm, and I’ve enjoyed the chance to practice speaking Gaelic.
I find it striking that these four churches are all part of the Church of Scotland. I’ve heard people talking about it being a “broad church,” but now that phrase has real meaning for me.
One of the most interesting aspects of the Church of Scotland, to me at least, is the function it performs as the national church. In practice, this means that any person within the parish of a Church of Scotland parish church – even if they have never set foot in it or indeed any church before – may ask to be wed, have a child baptised, or have a funeral carried out by that church. This is quite different from other congregations, who may well say, “I’ve never seen you before, so I’m not going to take the time to perform this ceremony”. I know from experience that not all ministers of the Church of Scotland are sincerely all-embracing of those residing in their parish. But certainly the two churches that I have belonged to in Aberdeen have had ministers who took their duty towards all people in the parish very seriously. It’s a heavy responsibility, and requires a sensitivity to the needs of those “of all faiths or none”.
It will take me a long time to find a new church home in Glasgow, not least because as an ordained elder, I would likely be joining the Kirk Session (assuming they wanted me!). I would thus be committing to working closely with the team of people who run the church, doing parish visits, serving communion, and so many other aspects of church life. At the moment, my caring duties are such that I’m not able to carry out the usual duties of an elder anyhow, so there really is no rush to find a new church affiliation.
I think it’s very important to stay open to different styles of worship, and this experience has given me the chance to think about what’s most important to me.
I’ll let you know what happens!
P.S. if you’re interested in my giveaway of a Rabbie Burns teatowel, and you’re reading this before December 5th 2013, 9 pm GMT, leave a comment here to have a chance at claiming it for your own!